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MacBook Pro with Retina display review (13-inch, 2015)

Nope, it’s not the new MacBook. That review will need to wait until next month. What we have here is the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. For all intents and purposes, it’s the same one we last tested in late 2013, except for one important thing: It swaps out the old trackpad in favor of a pressure-sensitive “Force Touch” pad that responds differently depending on how hard you bear down on it. (A hard-press on the skip button in QuickTime, for instance, will let you fast-forward at warp speed.) In addition, the new MBP brings all the spec upgrades you’d expect in a system refresh, including faster SSDs, fresh graphics and Intel’s latest Core processors. At $1,299-plus, it’s priced the same as before, and since the design and Retina display haven’t changed, you’re likely to enjoy it as much as you did the last-gen model. I can’t promise you’ll love the new touchpad, though.

If you already own a recent MacBook Pro, or have even futzed around an Apple Store, then you know what to expect here. The new MBP, like so many before it, is constructed from a seamless block of machined aluminum, with springy, well-spaced keys and a crisp 2,560 x 1,600 display, framed by a thin, barely there bezel. As before, the machine measures a slim 0.71 inch thick, though Apple is listing the weight as slightly heavier this time around: 3.48 pounds, as opposed to 3.46. Big whoop.

Around the edges, you get the same selection of ports: two USB 3.0 connections, a full-sized HDMI socket, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, an SD card slot and a headphone jack. Nope, no USB Type-C ports like on the new MacBook — at least not this time around.

Oh, and the aluminum lid and chassis are still scratch-prone. With that, I am done talking about the MacBook Pro’s hardware.

Except for the new trackpad, of course. I have plenty more to say about that. For starters: What a risky thing for Apple to do, replacing the touchpad that’s already the best in its class. Reviewers like it; users seem to like it. So what’s the problem? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Right. Except for the fact that the Force Touch pad can do things the Mac regular trackpad can’t. I already gave the example of pressing down on the skip keys in QuickTime to rewind or fast-forward at 60x speed. But there are other use cases: You can use the “Force Click” in Safari to get Wikipedia previews and word definitions. You can annotate in Mail and Preview. Speaking of Mail, you can Force Click on an address and see it in a pop-up map. You can also use it in Finder to preview files. And those are just built-in Mac apps; developers can build this feature into third-party apps as well.

Before I get into the utility of all this, though, allow me to take a step back and explain how this thing works. Though it’s about as spacious as the one on the old model, the new Force Touch pad does away with the old-school “diving board” — the hinge mechanism that makes it easier to press down on the bottom portion of a touchpad than on the top. In fact, the trackpad here doesn’t have any buttons; there’s nothing to depress when you bear down with your finger. Instead, Apple fools you into believing you’re clicking something. How? With the use of a “Taptic Engine” — a bunch of wires coiled around a magnetic core that provide vibrating haptic feedback to match whatever you’re doing onscreen. It’s so convincing, in fact, that I would sometimes forget it wasn’t a normal trackpad — until I turned the machine off, anyway, and was left with a stiff piece of glass.

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